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March 31, 2024 “Resurrection at Plant Speed”

March 31, 2024 “Resurrection at Plant Speed”

Lisa Wiens Heinsohn

Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given March 31, 2024

Easter Sunday


Alleluia, Christ is risen! Happy Easter!

Today is the day in which Jesus emerged as not just another martyr, but as a beacon of hope, a being of radiant light so bright that death itself could not contain him. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the central cipher of Christian faith, the ancient truth we call the Paschal mystery, for no one will ever be able to really explain it. Just like the sun shining in all its brilliance, one can’t look directly at it. One can only see what it does. In the case of the sun, what are in my opinion the most evolved spiritual beings on our planet, trees and plants, have figured out how to use light as food. Light causes everything to grow. The dawn brings us joy and beauty every day, each day a miracle and unrepeatable, world without end.

Easter is the resurrection of Jesus despite the utter cruelty and indifference of empire, which we have seen over and over again in all the ancient generations of recorded history. In a way it has been a long, long death. But there was a time when things were not like they are now. There was a time when people all over the globe lived close to the earth and its rhythms. Like Jesus they were keen observers of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. Like Jesus they had initiatory rites in the wilderness in which they were visited by angels and wild animals, sentient beings that were their kin. There was still violence. There was still wrongdoing. But there was a wholeness to life because humanity still knew one essential thing, the thing Jesus came to teach us: that we are all family. That we are to love everyone, family, friend, neighbor and enemy.  That there is no “us” and no “them”, only one vast fabric of life that is permanently interconnected, and that none of us lives for ourselves alone, but for the good of the whole.

Death and resurrection is not actually unique to Christianity, although Jesus showed is to us in a profound and unique way. Death and resurrection is the pattern of creation that repeats over and over again, every dawn, every spring, every ice age retreating. There is a rhythm to nature that is a sacred mystery, that everything pulses like a heartbeat, the moon and the tides and the planets orbiting the sun, and death and resurrection is one form of that great rhythm, of ending and beginning.

A few years ago I spoke to you about how you know sometimes, when you’re hungry, and you open the fridge, and you look in there and nothing looks appealing? Finally you close it and order takeout? Sometimes if we’re honest, religion feels like that. Hopefully not today! But it can sometimes be like something that we tolerate, like going to the dentist because we know it’s good for us, but it’s not fun. Going deeper, the words and symbols we use at Church sometimes feel very, very far from the actual lives we live. Sometimes they feel dead. Sometimes they feel like nothing that would cause our hearts to beat faster, that would make us feel relief at finally hearing the truth, that would help us all wake up. As we have seen, the traditional denominations all over the country are mostly on the trajectory of a decades-long decline. For some people, traditional Christianity has died. For others it’s on life support. We are coming to terms with the horrors of colonialism, Native American genocide, and racism, all of which were driven by the engine of a Christianity that had traveled very far from the beautiful being Jesus was and is.

But I am seeing a great resurrection. It is a coming to life again, of what we are beginning to call the Way of Love. Just as Mary Magdalene in the garden could not at first recognize her own beloved Jesus, so too we may not immediately recognize this new utterly powerful life that is emerging from the tomb of old religion. Here is what I am seeing emerge, in countless forms, all around the globe.

First: though we don’t always recognize this resurrecting Way of Love, it sees you and knows you and calls you by name, calls you back to yourself, like Jesus called Mary in the garden.

This resurrecting Way of Love is sometimes found, not in a structure built by hands, but in a garden. Last year we experimented with something called Wild Church, seeking God outside. Like countless people such as John Muir and Thomas Berry have expressed so beautifully, we know we are in the presence of God canoeing in the boundary waters or standing under ancient pine trees or looking at the vastness of Lake Superior or the Pacific Ocean.

This resurrecting Way of Love is in alignment with and deeply honoring the Earth and all her creatures. Theologians like Sallie McFague and Pierre Tielhard de Chardin and Victoria Loorz have insisted that Jesus’ call to love must extend to the sentient, More-than-Human beings of the earth.

This resurrecting Way of Love fully incorporates the sacred feminine. Women and men and non-binary folk all over the globe are experiencing God who is Mother as well as Father, discovering what had been hidden for centuries, such as that Mary Magdalene was not a peripheral prostitute following Jesus but a disciple in the inner circle who was the only one to stay with Jesus throughout his death, who was the first to see his resurrected form, who embodied his teachings and was the first Apostle. Womanist theologians are interpreting the gospel in light of their embodied experiences. Celtic Christians are rediscovering the divine feminine in the saint Brigid who has a lot in common with the pre-christian goddess Brigid of the islands we today call the United Kingdom.

The resurrecting Way of Love embraces the fullness of human experience, body, mind and spirit. It does not demonize or shame bodies or sexuality. It knows the fact of God taking human form, of God speaking the world into existence and calling it good, means that bodies and matter and this world is where divinity lives, not just a way station on the way to heaven.

The resurrecting Way of Love is kin-centric: aware of—sensing—the vast web of life and the human species as just one member of the family of life, with a role to play for all to thrive. It is aware that all humanity stands equal before God, that no one culture has any right to declare itself more worthy than any other, that the color of one’s skin or the accent of one’s speech are not markers of worth but evidence of God the artist, who loves to paint the rainbow. This Way of Love knows that refugees and Indigenous peoples and People of Color and Europeans and every kind of human being and their descendants are all identically human and part of a huge family, even if the family fights sometimes.

The Way of Love is non-violent. Nonviolent revolutions have spread like wildfire across the globe since Mahatma Gandhi (who, by the way, was inspired by Jesus) taught us what that looked like, since Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero and Cesar Chavez expressly used their understanding of Jesus to seek liberation for their people.

This Way of Love is not exclusive. It does not insist that its own understanding is the best or only way. It is able to humbly receive wisdom from other sources. Today even Episcopal liturgy, which usually moves at the speed of a glacier, is beginning to acknowledge and repent from the harm Christianity has done to other faiths, such as our Good Friday liturgy which now laments and rejects and repents from the anti-semitism that has been expressed in our tradition and falsely interpreted from our scriptures.

This resurrecting Way of Love is learning to tell the truth and make amends to heal our ancestors, like Bishop Desmond Tutu leading the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. Like the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church beginning similar truth and reconciliation processes to tell the truth about Native American boarding schools.

This resurrecting Way of Love in which we are baptized is centered on the original Jesus. How do we recognize this true Jesus? We know it when the hungry are being fed, when healing is happening, when compassion is present. This risen Christ is alive and is a being of radiant light who continues to transmit his love, healing, teachings and energy to us today.

This resurrecting Way of Love is full of the Holy Spirit in all her manifestations. She causes us to speak in so many languages.  She causes us all to have visions and dreams of the way things could be, of who God really is. She is poured out on all flesh, and we really do mean all flesh. The ancient peoples who thought everything had a spirit, even trees and birds, were on to something. We are beginning to recognize that trees communicate with one another through fungal networks, that ratio of brain weight to body weight in crows is the same as it is in humans, meaning they may be as intelligent as we are, that orcas teach each other and communicate. Ancient practices of healing that have traditionally been called shamanic are surfacing again, because humanity is beginning to take seriously that we have soul and spirit as well as body and mind, and all of these parts of us need healing.

This resurrection is slow. If you stare at church in any given moment in time it may seem that nothing is happening. But it turns out that resurrection moves at plant speed. If you stare at your houseplant nothing changes. But in a week it looks different. Everywhere, shoots of this new life, this new understanding of Jesus’ Way of Love is sprouting up in the most unexpected places, relentlessly, powerfully, unstoppably. Whether the Church eventually gets on the bus or not, it is happening, and it is beautiful and cause for thunderous joy. This Way of Love can transform us utterly and grant us power and wholeness.

And this is desperately needed. At the same time that this resurrection is happening, there is also all over the globe a terrible hatred and violence, unhealed trauma that is playing itself out in fear and prejudice and a sick selfishness that wants to consume and exclude, demonize and destroy.

You may not believe me. The disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene at first either. According to Luke’s gospel, they thought what she was saying sounded like idle tales, maybe what in our language would be called old wives’ tales (which is a totally sexist phrase, but anyway). People, old wives are exactly who we need to be listening to right now. Open your eyes to discover what is right in front of you, hiding in plain sight. Let yourself follow where your heart is burning even if it feels like it is coloring outside the lines, as long as what you are doing is for the good of the whole. As long as you are experiencing love and kinship, sacredness and healing and life. I’m not saying you should have bad boundaries or anything like that; I’m saying we should let our imagination go free. In fact, as long as you are coming from a place of love and considering the common good, throw out the coloring book, get out a blank canvas, and paint. The world needs your unique genius, the dream Spirit is giving to you. Where creativity and sacredness, love and kinship are, Jesus is. He is alive. Christ is risen. Alleluia.

10am Service